Speck’s Broasted Chicken in Collegeville, Pennsylvania. The Bryant-Lake Bowl in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Lakeland Lodges in Vermillion, Ohio. What do these places have in common? They’ve all been featured by Mod Betty, just like the Astro Motel (Santa Rosa, California), Steve’s Sizzling Steaks (Carlstadt, New Jersey), Balich 5 & 10 (Arlington, MA), and hundreds more.
Mod Betty, a.k.a. Beth Lennon, scours the country seeking out destinations that time forgot—diners, restaurants, candy stores, ice cream parlors, bowling alleys, drugstores, motels, hotels, movie theaters, drive-ins, and the like. She posts the finds on her website, RetroRoadmap.com, so others can visit them, too.
“I look for mom-and-pop-owned places that when you walk in you get that stepped-back-in-time feeling,” she says. The time period she’s most keen to step back into is generally the 1920s through the ’70s. She has unearthed vintage wonders in 48 states (missing: North Dakota and Alaska). On the website, you can search by destination type or by state. The latter reveals the biggest trove is in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, her home base. When she’s not on the road, a restored 1964 Serro Scotty camping trailer serves as her summer office.
Peering wistfully at the world from the back of a Ford Country Squire
“My sister and I joke that we both like travel and roadside things because we never got to stop at them as kids,” Lennon says. Growing up in Massachusetts, the family didn’t venture much farther than Cape Cod. “We never went road-tripping. And as a kid, in the back of the station wagon, when you see a place that you want to stop but you’re not the driver, you go where your parents go.” For Lennon, the yearning to explore was born while riding in the way back of her parents’ dark green ’73 Ford LTD Country Squire.
But when you’re in the driver’s seat, it’s a different story. “Once you get your driver’s license, you can drive yourself anywhere you want to go,” she notes. After Lennon got hers, she enrolled in college, studied art history and took a lot of photography classes. She also began to satisfy her wanderlust behind the wheel of her ’74 Ford Gran Torino—originally Ginger Metallic, she had the car painted black. It might not have been the coolest ride for a college student in the 1980s, but in it “I went out and started to explore the world around me,” she says. “Diners, downtown movie theaters, and drive-in movie theaters—those were the places that interested me. And since I had my hands on the wheel, I could steer myself towards them and go anyplace I wanted.”
Growing up in New England, Lennon appreciation of history was focused on the colonial era. “But when I would see things like mid-century modern buildings or neon signs—that sparked something that said, ‘Oh, that’s cool, that looks interesting, what is that?’”
Unlike those early American historic places, our country’s more recent history seems to get less recognition and appreciation. And as a result, these places are fast disappearing.
“Oftentimes, things that are within the memory of people that are still around don’t seem historic to people,” Lennon notes. “They just seem old, so they’re not regarded as something you should save as a historic example of a certain era.
“That’s one of the reasons I started RetroRoadmap.com and why I’ve been doing it more in earnest recently. I thought, ‘What can I do to save these places that are closing down because nobody goes to them?’” By sharing her finds with her audience, who in turn tell their friends about them, the hope is that pretty soon exponentially more people will be aware of these places that had become invisible because they’d been around for so long.
Retro road trip resources
Those who are inspired to follow her lead can check out her website. There you can get look for destinations by type (places to eat/stay/shop/visit) or by state. You can also send Mod Betty a tip if you know of a hidden gem that time forgot. Head over to her Flickr page to get a preview of what Mod Betty turns up: www.Flickr/photos/modbetty. You can also sign up for a free monthly email newsletter to learn about the latest finds, and follow Retro Roadmap on the usual socials: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Most of all, though, get out there yourself and add some classic Americana to your next classic-car road trip.